Nobody in college football likes the idea of moral victories, but that’s the best way to spin what happened against Texas A&M two weekends ago.
After the Great San Jose State Stumbling, the Hogs were 23-point underdogs against the now-No. 21 Aggies at sites like BetOnline. After the 31-27 loss, Hogs fans at Cowboys Stadium gave the Razorback players a standing ovation. It was the “best loss” of the Chad Morris era.
Between Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel, the Hogs threw for just under 300 yards against the Aggies. But, aside from Rakeem Boyd’s 87 yards, the Razorbacks couldn’t get the running game going.
The Aggies put up only 251 yards through the air, but further punctured a weak Hogs secondary with three touchdown passes — a week after Arkansas gave more than 400 yards to San Jose State. Yet Arkansas’ biggest recent issue has been the horrifying interception binge that quarterback Nick Starkel has been on.
Before he left with an injury, Starkel had thrown about one interception for every nine passes attempts in the last six quarters. That’s pure, undistilled win cyanide right there, folks.
Morris on Hicks: "He was prepared and had a great feel for what was going on for our offense." pic.twitter.com/PVQyMc49nn— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 28, 2019
The bottom line, though, is the Hogs lost again.
”None of those guys want to be 2-and-3, and none of the coaches do,” Hogs running back coach Jeff Taylor said last week. “And that’s fine, I’m not being smart aleck at all in my answers to y’all. It’s just how we feel, and it’s amazing how a couple of plays we’re sitting in here 4-and-1, and we’d all be laughing and dapping each other up. Instead, I want to go home and kick my dog.”
Kentucky Up Next
The Hogs have a great shot at the first SEC win of the Chad Morris era this weekend at Kentucky, another 2-3 team. Here are the top three reasons:
1. Trend lines favor Arkansas
Despite losing its last game, Arkansas is trending in the right direction.
Kentucky, meanwhile, had a great showing against Florida in Week 3 with a 21-29 loss but has nosedived since then. The Wildcats then lost 28-13 to Mississippi State, followed by a 24-7 knockout by South Carolina.
Of course, Arkansas also had plenty of momentum coming off its Colorado State win and heading into the SJSU tragedy. We all know how that ended. Still, after that lesson learned, it’s hard to imagine the Hogs will come out flat for this one.
2. Kentucky’s quarterback situation is a hot mess
The Wildcats lost their starting quarterback Terry Wilson to injury in the Florida loss. Since then, Sawyer Smith has mostly underwhelmed in his stead, completing 54 of 117 passing attempts for 665 yards with four touchdowns with five interceptions.
Smith has battled through minor injuries, but will probably play against Arkansas. As he recovered in the off week, wide receiver Lynn Bowden took first-team reps in practice. Look for him to be used in the ‘Wildcat’ package at times against Arkansas.
“I think it’s up in the air,” UK coach Mark Stoops said of his quarterback situation. “If you watched us last week you know we ended up playing Lynn Bowden there at quarterback at the end of the game. Sawyer has been battling through some injuries for a couple of weeks. That got aggravated again this past Saturday so we have Lynn Bowden and also Walker Wood taking reps at quarterback this week. We do anticipate and hope that Sawyer will be back in action next week ready to play against Arkansas.”
3. Arkansas is poised for a breakthrough game on the ground
The Hogs’ offensive line is slowly but surely rounding out into a serviceable squad. It’s played well two of its last three games, SJSU excepted of course, and helped Arkansas outgain Texas A&M 395 to 340 yards while giving up only two sacks.
One big difference was the return of starting left tackle Colton Jackson after he missed the SJSU game.
Expect Rakeem Boyd, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, to do his usual damage against Kentucky. But things should open up for his RB peers, Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley, as well because Arkansas’ receiving game is starting to heat up.
The Hogs have four legit, big-time playmakers to stretch the field in Mike Woods, Treylon Burks, Trey Knox and Cheyenne O’Grady. After a week of healing, all four should be ready to go. Their presence will open up plenty of running lanes for the Arkansas backs.
Kentucky opens as a 6.5 favorite this week, but that’s only because the game is at their place. Otherwise, more factors fall in favor of the Hogs.